Great Britain's victory in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) led to the complete defeat of France and Spain as colonial powers in North America. The peace treaty negotiated at Paris in 1763 resulted in France's loss of all her possessions in continental North America; Spain traded Florida for Havana, which had been conquered in the war's waning days. Britain stood as the unchallenged colonial power east of the Mississippi River.
The war had been expensive, and Prime Minister George Grenville called for the American colonists to shoulder some of the costs. His administration introduced a series of indirect taxes -- customs duties paid by importers and passed on to the consumer as a markup. In 1765, however, Parliament passed An Act for Granting and Applying Certain Stamp Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America, commonly called "The Stamp Act." It prescribed a direct tax of one penny per sheet on newspapers and required that the newspapers be printed on stamped paper purchased from government agents. In addition to the tax, these provisions raised the specter of censorship; if a newspaper proved troublesome to the authorities, its supply of paper could be cut off. The Stamp Act took effect on November 1, 1765.
The Board of Stamps prepared two hundred copper dies and eight plates of the one-penny stamps. The design consists of a mantle; St. Edward's Crown encircled by the Order of the Garter; and a scepter and sword. At top is the word AMERICA; at bottom the denomination ONE PENNY and the number of the individual die. Dark red proof impressions of the plates were made on thick laid paper before production of the stamped paper began.
News of the Stamp Act infuriated some American colonists, especially newspaper publishers. The Boston Gazette caricatured the proposed stamps with a skull and crossbones and the words, "This is the place to affix the STAMP." The Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser suspended publication with the October 31 edition rather than acquiesce to using the stamp; it appeared with a black mourning border and announced that it was "EXPIRING: In Hopes of a Resurrection to LIFE again." Mounting cries of taxation without representation and public violence against the stamp agents eventually led Parliament to repeal the act on March 18, 1766. The only newspaper in continental North America known to have used the stamp was the Halifax, (Nova Scotia) Gazette. It was never used in any of the colonies that later became part of the United States.
Only thirty-two copies of the original dark-red proof impressions made in 1765 have survived. Twenty-six of these are contained in a partial proof sheet owned by the British Library Philatelic Collections. Five more -- three singles and a pair -- are in private hands, and the one pictured here is in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's permanent collection. John A. Brill of Philadelphia donated it to the National Philatelic Collection on May 25, 1889. According to the donor, the stamp was from the estate of "of the Hon. Welbore Ellis, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue for Great Britain," by whom he likely meant Welbore Ellis Agar, an art collector and a commissioner of His Majesty's Customs (1776 -1805).
All other known copies are lithographed reproductions made for the Centennial International Exhibition held at Philadelphia in 1876. Although these were apparently made for display at the exhibition, some copies reached the philatelic marketplace through John Walter Scott, an early stamp dealer from New York City.
Koeppel, Adolph, ed. New Discovery from British Archives on The 1765 Tax Stamps for America. Boyerstown, PA: 1962.
Museum ID: 0.022044.1